Everyone has their own personal hair and beauty struggles, but a common complaint among the curly community is consistency. Healthy, defined curls are every curly-haired person's goal on wash day—but achieving them through air-drying can be complicated by factors like the temperature and humidity outside. Enter: diffusing.
We asked three hairstylists—Matthew Collins, Danjela Nika, and Raphael Rogue—to tell us everything there is to know about diffusers, including how to use them for perfectly defined curls and coils.
Meet the Expert
What Is a Diffuser?
Diffusers come in many shapes and sizes, but they all seek to diffuse the hot air coming out of a blow dryer. Typically, they are bowl-shaped with prongs throughout, and, according to Nika, they are designed to imitate a natural "air-dry" effect. Rogue agrees and adds that a diffuser attachment helps to disperse airflow from your blow dryer in a much more controlled manner. It is possible to find diffuser attachments designed to fit over your existing dryer, but those who are thinking about diffusing on the regular may want to consider investing in a dryer that comes with its own. "For most dryers, this aspect can be very tricky as most are not specifically made for the dryer and many dryers do not come with the attachment. In all Dyson Supersonic ($430) kits the diffuser is included and has a high power magnet so it fastens very easily to the dryer and stays in place, but is also very easy to remove when finished," shares Collins.
Diffusing works by directing airflow all around curls, allowing them to dry without being disrupted the way they would be with a normal dryer air stream. Collins explains that this means drying the curls in place and enhancing what is there, rather than manipulating them: "The diffuser is designed to give a gentle cycle of airflow to dry your hair, but not blow it around which will cause frizz," he says. You'll want to make sure you have your dryer on the right settings to reduce frizz, which Nika describes as high heat and low airflow. Collins agrees and says that if using the Dyson Supersonic, he recommends using low or medium power and medium to high heat.
Benefits of Diffusing Curly Hair
Diffusing allows curly-haired people to dry their hair before leaving their home (air-drying can take hours), but it also offers many benefits to the curl pattern. "The benefit of using a diffuser is that it will minimize frizz, enhance volume, add shine, and define the curl pattern," explains Rogue. Collins agrees, explaining that using a diffuser will help to enhance your curl to a tighter pattern. "If you let your hair dry naturally it will take some time, so the curl has more of a chance to be disturbed, moved, or shaken up before dried. But once diffused and dry the curl pattern will stay intact much longer and hold its shape frizz-free," Collins explains. Diffusing greatly improves the definition and shine of curls and offers far more consistent results than air-drying.
And diffusing isn't just for curly hair. Nika recommends diffusing for all hair types, as it can be less damaging than regular blow-drying and can bring out waves and curls in the hair. "Contrary to the popular belief that diffusing is just for very curly hair, a diffuser can be used on any hair type or texture," adds Collins. "In some cases of pin-straight hair it may only add a slight movement, but in most cases, it will amp up your curl pattern by 20-70 percent."
Steps for a Perfect Diffuse
Prepare the Hair for Diffusing
Properly taking care of your hair prior to diffusing is crucial to getting a gorgeous curly set, says Nika. Diffusing hair with no product will result in a much different, frizzier look than curls prepped with adequate moisturizing and styling products. "For various types of hair, the most important difference to start is your product choice," says Collins. "If your hair only has a little wave or curl you want to generally focus on polymer-based products like mousses, texture sprays, thickeners, or light gels. If your hair has lots of curl and is thick you may want to focus more on emollient types of products like creams or oils."
Rogue recommends applying the desired product throughout the hair from the roots to the end of the hair. "The best way to distribute product is to evenly saturate on wet hair. This helps to distribute your product of choice evenly throughout your entire head of hair. Some people like to scrunch it in, and some like to set it with a finger wrap. Each method is appropriate, but it’s all about what works for you." The hair should be soaking wet when you apply the styling products to ensure even distribution, but you can gently scrunch your curls with a microfiber towel after product application and before diffusing to cut down on dry time.
Start at the Roots
It's important to start at the roots, as this section will take much longer than the rest of the hair. "Once the product and the desired style have been placed, we can begin to diffuse," says Rogue (who demonstrates above). "When diffusing, it’s best to not disturb the curls, meaning don’t move the hair—just move your diffuser in a 360-degree motion, making sure that you’re hitting all points of your head. Keep in mind that you’re drying your roots first. Once you feel your roots are pretty much dry then you can begin diffusing down the mid-shaft, toward the ends of the hair."
During this step, Nika recommends that you lean forward and flip your hair in front of you. "Lightly shake your head to have the curls fall into place. While the back dries, any product that falls toward the front of the hair helps reduce the frizz in the front," she explains.
Start Building Volume
Once the roots are dry, you can control how much volume you create by either flipping the hair and drying it in different positions for high volume or just diffusing sitting up. Nika recommends keeping the diffuser three to five inches away from the hair, moving the dryer in a circular motion around the area of the hair without touching the hair during this step.
"Once you feel that things are starting to feel a little bit drier, you’ll notice the hair starting to get fuller," says Rogue. "This is when you can start doing the shake-out motion. The shake-out is when you flip your head over and really get in there with your diffuser and start shaking out your hair. This is going to start promoting volume from underneath the nape of the neck."
Diffuse the Length of Your Hair
Once you feel the roots to the midsection of the hair are fully dried, you can flip your hair back upright and continue to diffuse. Rogue says you'll want to start cupping your hair into your diffuser and moving your diffuser in an upward motion while tilting the head from side to side. This is the classic diffusing technique you may have seen on social media, but it's important not to dry the ends of your hair before the roots and midsection of the hair have dried; the ends will dry the fastest and will quickly frizz if over-dried. You'll know when your curls are dry when your chosen hair product has formed a cast over your curls. This means they will be slightly crunchy to the touch, but we'll address that in the next step.
Scrunch and Set Your Curls
Once the hair has fully dried, there is still one step left: scrunching to break the cast. Start by shaking your head to loosen your roots, then begin to scrunch your hair. Nika explains that the best way to scrunch is opening your palms to hold the hair from the ends bringing it up toward the root, and finally squeezing the entire length of the hair at the root to break the cast.
"Once these steps are completed, this is where the fun part starts. You can now really personalize your curl placement depending on how you like to have them lay," says Rogue. "I sometimes like to go in again and spray some light-hold hairspray; it just helps to add extra definition to the curls and lock in the style."
In the end, your results are going to vary depending on the type and texture of your hair and the products that you select. But overall, diffusing can greatly improve your curl definition—and cut drying time by more than half. Diffusing is the key to consistent, healthy, and defined curls.